Talking to Teenagers about Tragedy

By October 3, 2019Youth Ministries

Our hearts are broken for the Paschal High School community today as they mourn the loss of one of their students to a tragic accident. The death of a young person in our community is devastating, and many of our teenagers are grieving their friend and classmate.

We have done our best to check-in, but we know that the first and best resource that our teenagers need to turn to is their families. Unfortunately, we can almost guarantee that this is not the last tragedy that our teenagers will be forced to reckon with, either in their schools, on the news, or elsewhere. Being able to be emotionally present to teenagers’ unique way of processing these sort of events, sandwiched in the uncomfortable space of being able to cognitively understand the nature of the tragedy without a full emotional arsenal to comprehend it, is vital, but can feel complicated.

Teenagers react in a huge diversity of ways to tragedy. Some may seemingly overreact, becoming emotional at the death of a person they didn’t know, because they are confronting for the first time that it could have just as easily been them or someone they love. Some may seemingly under-react, seeming apathetic even if they witnessed the tragedy or knew those involved, because they are seeking to rationalize what seems like an unpredictable world. Adults can display this same range of behaviors as well, but for those of us who love and care for teenagers, a framework for caring for them well can be helpful.

We wanted to share some guidance from experts on talking to teenagers about tragedy:

  1. Your teenager wants to connect with you. Whether they articulate it or not, they want to look to you for guidance and support, being present in tragedy, even by turning the TV off and asking a few simple questions, makes a huge difference.
  2. Check your emotions. It can be natural to respond to a tragedy like this from our own fear as adults (“this is why you can never do anything like this!”) instead of creating space for teenagers to process what they’re feeling.
  3. Support your teenager’s resilience. By listening to them, affirming their responses as valid, and allowing them to process out loud however they need to without judgement (talking about how other people are responding, being angry or dismissive, etc) you can learn a lot about what they may need from you or other adults.
  4. Don’t force a discussion. While you should always open the door for the conversation, some people need longer to process internally than others, including teenagers. Some will want to maintain a sense of normalcy and seem disinterested. Just let them know that you are here for them if they ever do want to talk.

If your teenager seems to be really struggling, feel free to reach out to us, or consult a mental health professional. Paschal has counselors available on campus for students to utilize if needed. A tragedy like his, happening near the school in the middle of the day, can have complicated emotional ripples through the school, and we want to be a resource to you and your family in all of that.

Keep the Paschal community, and all those affected, in your prayers today.

Kat Bair
Director of Youth Ministries


*From “Changing the Way we Talk to Teens about Tragic Events” by Kenneth Ginsburg M.D., M.S.Ed


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